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DARPA picks SSL as satellite-servicing partner despite Orbital ATK lawsuit

RSGS GEO Robotic Servicing Vehicle (RSV) Credit: DARPA/SSL

WASHINGTON — DARPA, undeterred by a lawsuit Orbital ATK filed on Tuesday, formally announced today that it will partner with Space Systems/Loral (SSL) on the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

Orbital ATK — which announced last year that it had signed Intelsat as a customer for its Space Logistic satellite-servicing venture — is asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to halt work on RSGS on the grounds that the program violates U.S. space policy provisions aimed at preventing the government from competing with commercial ventures.

Orbital ATK hopes to convince the court that RSGS program would unfairly benefit Space Systems/Loral (SSL).

“DARPA would pay to develop the robotic technology, pay to modify the spacecraft platform, pay to launch the technology into orbit, and then (following a brief demonstration period) transfer ownership of the significantly subsidized spacecraft — along with the DARPA funded robotic technology — to the single participant for its sole commercial use,” Orbital ATK’s suit claims.

DARPA, in a Feb. 9 press release announcing its partnership with SSL, wrote:

With RSGS, DARPA plans to develop a robotic module, including hardware and software, and provide technical expertise and a Government-funded launch. SSL would provide a spacecraft and would be responsible for integrating the module onto it to create a robotic servicing vehicle (RSV) and the RSV onto the launch vehicle, as well as providing a mission operations center and staff.

After a successful on-orbit demonstration of the RSV, SSL would operate the vehicle and make cooperative servicing available to both military and commercial GEO satellite owners on a fee-for-service basis. In exchange for providing property to SSL, the Government would obtain reduced-priced servicing of its satellites and access to commercial satellite servicing data throughout the operational life of the RSV, again at great taxpayer savings.

SSL said in a Feb. 9 press release that the RSGS servicing vehicle it will be developing with DARPA will be capable of performing multiple servicing missions, including:

  • high-resolution inspection
  • refueling
  • correction of mechanical anomalies
  • assistance with relocation and other orbital maneuvers
  • installation of attachable payloads, enabling upgrades to existing assets.

“The company will market these services as a commercial business and is already in discussion with several key customers,” SSL said in the  release.

“This will be SSL’s first spacecraft contract with the Department of Defense in recent years and it is the third time that we have been selected by the U.S. government for a major program in just two months, following our recent selections for NASA’s Restore-L and Psyche missions,” Howard Lance, chief executive officer of SSL MDA Holdings, said in a Feb. 9 statement. “It clearly demonstrates the success of our strategy to bring the benefits of our commercial business to a broader audience and to grow our business with U.S. government work.”

Errant Announcement

DARPA and SSL did not include a contract value in their Feb. 9 press releases. DARPA spokesman Jared Adams said SSL’s contract has not been finalized. “Because this is our first [Other Transaction Authority] for a space servicing program, it is undergoing a little additional review at the ATL level,” he said, referring to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “Once that process has been completed, then the contract award will be finalized.”

On Monday, shortly after U.S. markets closed, DARPA briefly posted and deleted a contracting notice that stated:

Space Systems/Loral LLC, Palo Alto, California, has been awarded a $15,000,000 firm-fixed-price other transaction for prototype agreement for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program. There are no options on the agreement. Fiscal 2016 research and development funds in the amount of $1,000,000 are being obligated at time of award. Work will be performed in Palo Alto, California, with an expected completion date of December 2021. This agreement was a competitive acquisition (program solicitation No. DARPA-PS-16-01).  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, Virginia, is the contracting activity (HR0011-17-9-0003).

 

Here is DARPA’s full Feb. 9 press release:

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                       February 9, 2017

 

DARPA Selects SSL as Commercial Partner for

Revolutionary Goal of Servicing Satellites in GEO

Public-private partnership to develop on-orbit robotic servicer that would radically lower the risk and cost of space operations  

 

In an important step toward a new era of advanced, cost-effective robotic capabilities in space, DARPA today announced that it has selected Space Systems Loral (SSL), based in Palo Alto, CA, as its commercial partner for the Agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program. DARPA and SSL seek to develop technologies that would enable cooperative inspection and servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), more than 20,000 miles above the Earth, and demonstrate those technologies on orbit. If successful, this research and demonstration effort would open the door to radically lowering the risks and costs of operating in GEO, a harsh and difficult-to-access domain that is critically important for both military and civilian space assets.

 

Under an agreement drafted jointly by DARPA and SSL, the two entities would share costs and responsibilities for the program. While such public-private partnerships have become common in several domains of research and development—saving taxpayer dollars by requiring commercial partners to invest significantly in projects rather than simply receive government funding—the RSGS public-private effort would be a first for DARPA in the space-servicing domain. As such, the Agency’s selection of SSL and the pending agreement have been submitted for review by the Defense Department’s Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

 

With RSGS, DARPA plans to develop a robotic module, including hardware and software, and provide technical expertise and a Government-funded launch. SSL would provide a spacecraft and would be responsible for integrating the module onto it to create a robotic servicing vehicle (RSV) and the RSV onto the launch vehicle, as well as providing a mission operations center and staff.

 

After a successful on-orbit demonstration of the RSV, SSL would operate the vehicle and make cooperative servicing available to both military and commercial GEO satellite owners on a fee-for-service basis. In exchange for providing property to SSL, the Government would obtain reduced-priced servicing of its satellites and access to commercial satellite servicing data throughout the operational life of the RSV, again at great taxpayer savings. The capabilities that RSGS aims to make possible include:

 

  • High-resolution inspection
  • Correction of some types of mechanical anomalies, such as solar array and antenna deployment malfunctions
  • Assistance with relocation and other orbital maneuvers
  • Installation of attachable payloads, enabling upgrades or entirely new capabilities for existing assets
  • Refueling

“Servicing on orbit could provide significant cost savings compared to current practices and a major advantage to the security of both commercial and Government space assets,” said Gordon Roesler, DARPA’s program manager for RSGS. “The engineering challenges that need to be overcome to achieve this degree of facility at GEO are considerable, entailing significant technical risks but also carrying the potential for significant rewards. In addition to inspection and repair, RSGS robotics promise a new era in which satellite upgrades and enhancements at GEO are no longer just a dream.”

Brad Tousley, Director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which will oversee RSGS, noted that the program is designed to demonstrate a suite of capabilities critical to national security and not currently available or anticipated to be offered commercially in the near term, including ultra-close inspection, repair of mechanical anomalies, and installation of technical packages on the exterior of US satellites, all of which require highly dexterous robotic arms. DARPA has already designed and created the required robotic arms.

 

In parallel with the RSGS partnership, DARPA also intends to provide the Government-developed space robotics technology to other interested U.S. space corporations. Qualified companies would be able to obtain and license the technology through cooperative research and development agreements.

To help ensure the long-term sustainability of RSGS and other future space operations—and provide the foundation for a new commercial repertoire of robust space-based capabilities—DARPA recently solicited research to develop and publish consensus operational safety standards for on-orbit rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) and robotic servicing operations. The awardee would establish and manage the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS), which would include both private sector and government technical experts.

 

Through CONFERS, DARPA aims to establish an industry/government forum composed of experts from throughout the space community. The forum would develop non-binding, consensus-derived technical and safety standards for on-orbit servicing operations, and help create definitions and expectations of responsible behavior in outer space. For more information, please visit the Federal Business Opportunities website (http://go.usa.gov/x9Qxd) or email HR001117S0006@darpa.mil.

 

“As the worldwide space industry expands and access to space becomes more routine, the need for norms of behavior—the ‘rules of the road’—will become increasingly important to preserve the ability of companies and government agencies to safely operate their space systems,” Tousley said. “With these two high-value DARPA programs, we hope to accelerate the development of  norms of operation supporting a robust space servicing capability, which in turn could radically transform the way we build and operate satellites and, in time, enable future large-scale logistics and construction in the GEO environment.”

 

 

SpaceNews.com

Source: Space News

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DARPA picks SSL as satellite-servicing partner despite Orbital ATK lawsuit

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